The opposite of green

I work in an office complex in the suburbs of Chicago. It’s just across the street from a forest preserve, and I like the quasi-natural feeling that this affords. The building itself even has LEED certification, which means that it once passed a set of guidelines for a low environmental impact. But any illusions that I had ever had came crashing down, literally, as I was getting into the office this morning.

I, like everyone who works in the building, received a generic email before the holiday stating that the parking lot was to be expanded. I don’t think there’s ever been a day, in nearly three years I’ve worked in this building, where I could not find a spot somewhere in the lot. Sometimes there’s a long walk after the car is parked, but for most days the existing parking is more than sufficient.

I didn’t pay too much attention to the news because, well, it’s not my building. The owners of the building (who, importantly, are not the company that I work for) decided more parking was needed, and who am I to dissent from that? I make my living by working in that building, but what they do with the land itself isn’t really my business. Or at least I didn’t think so at the time.

So when I came in this morning, I looked out the window, at another sunny and hot day, and saw a row of trees lying on the ground. I don’t think this registered in my mind right away, but then I saw a Bobcat-type of a vehicle picking up a tree to move it someplace else. And then I realized what was going on.

The memo which I had ignored indicated that there would be “tree removal” before the paving began, and I suppose this was what that term meant. Dozens of trees were being felled, and I pulled out my camera to record the scene for posterity. The fall of one of the trees was captured, and is presented here. As I watched the scene unfolding, it just looked wrong. Doesn’t the world need all the trees it can get?

At the end of the day, I walked past the stumps that marked the spots where the trees had stood, as recently as this morning. It was well over 100 degrees, and I wanted to get into my air-conditioned car as quickly as possible. But I felt the trees deserved more than that. I started counting the stumps, and I came up with 31 trees that had been brought down in order to create more blacktop.

There’s an irony in the fact that I then got into my car and drove home. The new parking spots are not being put in for me, specifically, but they will make it so that more people can drive their cars to this spot. Whatever the environmental benefit of 31 trees was, it will be a memory once the stumps are dug up, the ground is cleared, and the blacktop is put in.

I have a job that allows me to work from home on some days, and on days like tomorrow, which is a Friday, there are many more parking spots available than are actually needed. On weekends, the entire building is deserted, but at least there’s ample parking available. The actual number of days when the building needs all of the new parking it’s putting in can’t be very many, and yet the new spaces are going in, anyway.

Is this progress? It doesn’t seem like it to me. I’m not naive enough to believe that my own lifestyle choices (wood-burning fireplace, putting up real Christmas trees every year, and so on) don’t have some destructive results. But seeing this process in person, and realizing that I was powerless to do anything other than taking some pictures and writing a few words about it, has made an impact on me.

I hope that something positive comes out of this, even if it won’t be as significant as what 31 trees  did to benefit the planet that I call home. Less natural resource usage is always possible, provided that we can find the will to actually do it. I hope that’s what happened to me, as the trees were coming down this morning. If I ever have an occasion to park in the new expansion of the parking lot, I’ll be sure to remember the price that was paid in order to create it.

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